A few festive Fantasy Football thoughts

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Picture the scene. It’s Boxing Day with the family, festivities are well underway, and you are receiving weird looks every time you celebrate a goal notification on your phone. If this is relatable, I hope this piece will secure you some bragging rights in your mini-leagues, or at least help avoid some questionable forfeits. I must confess, I am no expert. However, I can boast nine years’ experience, a top 1% finish and a current rank of 200,000.

International Competitions

Unfortunately, the best way to succeed in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) is to always be one step ahead. Three quick deadlines are approaching (GW18-20), depending on when you read this, so you need to be on your toes and not miss deadlines.

The big issue coming up is the African Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup. Big players like Mo Salah, Son Heung-min, and Hwang Hee-Chan will all be missing from GW21-24 if they reach their respective finals.

You need to have a strategy for transferring out these players and getting them back in as soon as they return. Players like Salah and Son can explode for big hauls, and your rank will be hurting if you fail to bring them back in time. Either commit to getting them back, bench one to save a transfer, or redistribute the funds to luxury defenders like Kieran Trippier or Alexander-Arnold.

The big issue coming up is the African Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup

Must Haves

Some players over the coming weeks seem essential. Players with good form, good fixtures and crucially guaranteed minutes in the busy period are ideal. Chelsea have an excellent run of fixtures over the coming weeks, so Cole Palmer is a no-brainer at £5.6m. I don’t love the Chelsea defence this season, but Levi Colwill at £4.6m is a safe option.

I like the Aston Villa defence, particularly with Sheffield United and Burnley at home coming up. Pau Torres seems to have picked up a knock, so I prefer Esri Konsa at £4.5m. Matty Cash is just too risky with rotation. Ollie Watkins is an excellent player to have in the attack.

Pedro Porro has emerged as an essential pick. At £5.5m, you get some nice fixtures, an attacking threat, a set-piece taker, and a decent chance at a clean sheet. Arsenal, despite lacking good fixtures, have one of the strongest defences this year. William Saliba is your safe bet at £5.5m, although I quite like the extra threat of Oleksandr Zinchenko for a cheaper £5.2m.

You are a brave soul if you plan to not own Erling Haaland when he returns from a blank GW18. Listen out to injury news closer to the time, but I think it’s too big a risk. Bukayo Saka (£9.0m) is always a solid option to cover the Arsenal attack.

Newcastle love a clean sheet, so Trippier (£6.9m), Martin Dubravka (£4.2m) and Dan Burn (£4.4m) are all solid picks depending on your budget. Anthony Gordon (£6.2m) is a consistent scorer at home but is carrying an injury. Keep an eye on him.

You are a brave soul if you plan to not own Haaland when he returns from a blank GW18

Differentials

These are some players with relatively low ownerships who could be worth a punt if you are feeling brave. Alex Moreno (£5.0m) is the fun attacking defender, with a big minutes risk. Leon Bailey (£5.6m) has similar problems, but a big upside with the free-flowing football. Alex Iwobi (£5.3m) plays Burnley and then Bournemouth; returns there would be huge for rank rising. Richarlison (£6.7m) and Gabriel Jesus (£8.0m) are hitting form, with the former playing up front as a midfielder.

My personal favourite is Kevin De Bruyne (£10.2m), who could become a great temporary Salah/Son replacement in a week or so. With his return from injury, Haaland in front of him, and a potential Manchester City double game-week, he’s one to keep an eye on.

Captains

Getting captaincy right is proving more important than ever. If you want to be risk-averse, leaving it on Salah or Haaland most of the year will reap rewards in the long term. What’s the fun in that though? GW18 is a toss-up between Watkins and Son, of which I’m leaning toward Watkins given a strong Everton defence and a poor Sheffield United team. Trippier could be fun against Luton, however. GW19 will depend on Haaland as always. The best option is likely Salah away to Burnley given the goals they ship at home.

Flip a coin between Watkins and Haaland for GW20, as they play Burnley and Sheffield United respectively. If in doubt, the robot is a reliable source of points. GW20 looks like Arsenal’s week at home to Crystal Palace, so I will probably captain Saka. Alexander-Arnold is the rogue pick, but I worry for Liverpool without Salah. Don’t forget to set strong vice-captains, people get rested without warning with this fixture congestion.

Getting captaincy right is proving more important than ever

Final Thoughts

Keep on top of injuries and suspensions. Although the yellow cards reset soon, it is painful when you can’t field a full team. Given the number of games coming up, it is probably best to have people who start for their teams on your bench, just in case. Keep an eye out on predicted price changes; you don’t want to miss out on someone by £0.1m.

You don’t want to be taking too many minus-four hits for transfers, it is rarely worth it. Unless it is a long-term problem player, with a strong long-term option as a replacement, leave it. Try to save your chips for later in the season, when blank and double gameweeks are common. Patience is key, getting on and off the form players requires good timing. Never back the early kick-off, and good luck!

Image: Jacek Stanislawek via Wikimedia Commons

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